Opening arguments in Cablevision-Dish trial

At a Manhattan news conference in 2003, Rainbow

At a Manhattan news conference in 2003, Rainbow Media executives at the time and Cablevision chairman Charles Dolan, center, introduce Voom, an array of high definition television programming. With Dolan, from left are Joshua Sapan and Mickey Alpert Sr. (Oct. 15, 2003) (Credit: Handout)

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A lawyer for Cablevision Systems Corp. kicked off a $2.4-billion trial in Manhattan Friday, saying the company suffered "massive financial losses" when rival Dish Network Corp. reneged on a satellite television deal and sabotaged the evidence.

"They systemically destroyed their emails," the lawyer, Orin Snyder, said during his opening argument in State Supreme Court.

Dish's attorney, James P. Bennett, painted a different picture, telling jurors that the Englewood, Colo., company quit the 2005 deal because Bethpage-based Cablevision failed to spend a required $100 million annually to improve its high-definition programs.

The trial, before Judge Richard B. Lowe III, is likely to last several weeks. Cablevision founder and chairman Charles Dolan is scheduled to testify on Monday. Charles Ergen, the former professional poker player who founded Dish in 1980, is expected to testify later in the trial.

The case hinges on whether a Dish affiliate, EchoStar Corp., unlawfully backed out of a 15-year deal in 2007 to broadcast channels for Voom HD, Cablevision's former high-definition unit. Voom filed the suit in 2008, claiming $2.4 billion in lost revenue and damages.

The jury will determine how Cablevision was supposed to spend the $100 million under the contract. Cablevision, which owns Newsday, argues it was allowed to spend on salaries, marketing and other expenses. Dish says every dime should have been for programming.

"This case is about Voom's failure to fulfill that commitment," Dish attorney Bennett said.

Voom is now largely defunct, owned by former Cablevision subsidiary AMC Networks Inc.

Hanging over the trial is Dish's recent decision not to renew its contract to broadcast AMC's channels, which offer programs including "Mad Men" and "Breaking Bad." AMC accused Dish of dropping its channels to gain an upper hand in settlement talks. Dish said it dropped the AMC channels for financial reasons.

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